Chapter Four

Food Crisis Myth

The Soviet Occupation Zone including Berlin (which was fed by the Soviet Zone originally, the Western Allies paying for their sectors by coal shipments from the Ruhr), totalled about 22,000,000 population living on a total area of 6,201,500 hectares of arable land. The British and American Zones, totalled a population of 44,000,000 living on 11,052,600 hectares of arable land.

During the period of the food crises of 1946-7-8, the Soviet Zone maintained a consistently higher ration scale for their population. Not only was the ration scale higher on paper, but in the Soviet Zone it was met; in the West it was officially only half to two-thirds what was promised on paper. The Soviet Zone supported in food grains, potatoes, meat and butter the Soviet Army and administration without any food imports – until 1948 – and at the same time exported about 200,000 tons of mixed foodstuffs to the Western Zones. How was this possible? In zones with almost the same arable acreage of land per head, the West imported half the foodstuffs officially consumed and maintained a much lower standard of feeding, while the East was self-supporting with an exportable surplus.

It is not enough to say that the rich agricultural areas of Germany were in the East. That used to be true, but most of that line lies behind the Oder Neisse line, and is now part of Poland. The American occupation zone includes Bavaria, which is certainly the richest agricultural land left in Germany: The British Zone includes Schleswig Holstein and Land Niedersachsen, both rich areas. None of these areas had suffered in the war to anything like the extent the Soviet Zone suffered during the gigantic battles which swayed back and forth there.

The explanation lies in the fact that the Russians had taken Clause (c) of Paragraph 17 of the Potsdam Agreement very seriously, while the Americans particularly had ignored it. Para. 17c of the Economic Principles states that "measures shall be promptly taken to maximise agricultural output."

A breakdown of crop figures for 1946-7 after the first serious food crisis shows this was not done in the bizonal area. An incredibly large proportion of land was being used to grow cattle food and for pasture land, which should have been used for growing food crops for direct human consumption.

The following table is from official figures compiled by U.S. Military Government.

U.S.-U.K. Zones Planned Production for 1946-7

Bread Grains  2,311,200
hectares (1 H.A. equals 2½ acres)
Potatoes 1,289,200      "
Sugar Beet 169,300      "
Vegetables 155,500      "
Oil Seeds 154,000      "
Tobacco 6,700      "
Hops 7,200      "
Vineyards 16,800      "
Orchards, home gardens, etc.    420,000      "
4,529,900      "
Cattle Fodder 1,591,900      "
Fodder Beets 122,100      "
Meadow and Pasture 4,508,700      "
     Total 6,522,700      "

Area for direct food consumption (including tobacco, etc.)       
Area for Cattle Fodder   6,522,700
     Total 11,052,600

Soviet Zone Planned Acreage for 1946-7

Bread Grains  2,953,000
Potatoes 810,000     "
Sugar Beet 220,000     "
Vegetables 119,000     "
Oil Seeds 144,000     "
Other Root Crops                
165,000     "
Orchards, etc.       14,000     "
     Total  4,425,000     "
Meadows 941,610     "
Pastures 435,890     "
Fodder      399,000     "
     Total 1,776,500     "

Area for direct human consumption                                            
Area for Cattle Fodder  1,776,500
     Total 6,201,500

In other words; with slightly more than half the total area of arable land, the Soviet Zone devoted almost exactly as much space to direct food crops as did the Western Zones. Food experts estimate that land devoted to crops for direct human consumption, bread grains, rice, etc., feeds three times as many people as land devoted to indirect food crops, that is fodder for producing milk or meat. China and India, for instance, could support only one-third their present populations if they decided to turn into meat eaters and switch their crops from rice to animal fodder.

In 1947 there was less land under cultivation in the American Zone than in 1938, despite the fact that there was virtually no destruction of farm implements or wholesale slaughtering and removal of draught animals as in the Soviet Zone. In 1949 there were 200,000 fewer people engaged in agriculture than in 1948. Grain production had fallen by 16 per cent., potatoes by 17 per cent.

There was no attempt to enforce an increase of the area under food grain cultivation; there was no enforcement of collection of those crops actually grown; there was no real pressure put on the Laender governments to export food from surplus areas to the starving Ruhr. Year after year, the Bavarian Government refused to send its surpluses to the Ruhr. Farmers preferred to feed their potatoes to the pigs. For months on end in 1946 and 1947 when Ruhr workers were starved of meat and ordinary consumers did not see meat for weeks on end, there was a glut of food, especially meat, in Bavaria. Half-hearted threats by some American officials that they would go in "with bayonets if necessary" to prise food from the farmers were ignored by local Bavarian officials.

When it came to the point of drastic action against the Bavarian Land Government, a sudden tenderness for democracy and rights of the Laender became apparent. It was decided it would be undemocratic to force the Bavarian Government if a majority in the Landtag did not want to. Where Laender rights coincided with the real aims of American military government, they were always respected.

After the Bizonal Economic Council was set up in Frankfurt, representatives from the British Laender, demanded that food officers from the Council be sent to check on what was happening to the food collection campaign in Bavaria. When inspectors were sent, they were thrown off the farms by the Bavarians with full support of the Land Government. In cases where tests were made it was found that the Bavarian Land and Agriculture Ministry had deliberately under-estimated crop returns by twenty to thirty per cent., in order to prove that Bavaria had no food to spare. Even from the artificially low estimates of crop yields, when it carne to actual collection, another twenty to thirty per cent. was missing. No real measures were taken to correct this.

In the midst of one of the food crises, General Clay's men announced a great pig-slaughtering campaign in Bavaria to send meat to the Ruhr. Official figures showed that just 10 per cent. of the pigs marked down for slaughtering were actually turned in by the farmers.

Similar things happened in the British Zone, but more energetic measures were later introduced there-when the prospect of finding dollars for American food imports loomed up.

In the first year of the food crisis in the British Zone, in 1946, it was found that the difference between British estimates of the harvest, based on known acreage sown and test samples of yield, and the actual figures of grain harvested was fifty per cent. In other words, the farmers declared only half the actual amount of grain they harvested.

The British Zone, with the huge industrial area in the Ruhr, was becoming more and more in dollar debt to the Americans, by the restriction of export of food surpluses from the American Zone and the failure to press any sort of food production campaign. For the British it was just a question of when the Americans were going to deliver the bill. It was not long in coming.

"We're putting up the money for feeding Germany, ain't we?" said Senator Tobin, chief of the Senate Financial Affairs Committee at a Berlin Press Conference, when he demanded that America have the whip hand in Germany.

And it carne in the demand that Britain abandon her declared policy of socialising the Ruhr; in the demand that America should have an overwhelming control over Germany's imports and exports; in the demand in the April, 1949, discussions on Germany in Washington that America have an overwhelming voice in all matters affecting policy in Germany when the Occupation Statute was applied.

"We've put up the cash, haven't we?" said the Tobins, "then we're not gonna have anybody monkeying around with our investments."

The concrete conversion of food crisis to American control of Germany took place in 1947, after Britain had signed on the dotted line to fuse her zone of occupation with the American Zone – a clear and obvious breach of the Potsdam Agreement.

Under a complicated agreement, the full significance of which the British signatories do not seem to have appreciated at the time of signing, the Americans were given a free hand in providing food for the Bizonal area. Imports into Germany were split into two categories. Category A included food, fertilisers, petrol and oil. Category B included raw materials, cotton, wool, etc., for producing export goods.

Category A imports were to be paid for from funds allotted by the American and British Governments. The food, fertilisers and petroleum products were to be provided almost exclusively from the United States, and carried in American ships. The Americans would decide the prices. Britain was to have a greater share in providing the Category B imports, which were supposed to be paid for out of German exports. In theory, German exports and Category B imports were supposed to balance.

The Germans, of course, had no say in any of these arrangements. If they had, they would certainly have continued the old trading arrangement of selling Ruhr products to the East in exchange for food. With grain and potatoes available a few hundred miles to the East on a barter basis for Ruhr coal and steel, they would not have elected to import food at top world market prices, carried half-way round the world in American ships, with the highest freight charges of any in the world. American tenderness for German democracy always stopped short of any point where the exercise of that democracy conflicted with American interests.

As the price they paid for being starved out of the Zone, the British had to agree to giving the Americans eight votes to two British on the Joint Export-Import Board which was established. The votes were supposed to be in direct proportion to the money invested by the two countries – and so, of course, was thoroughly democratic. America decided, always by eight votes to two, what should be imported into Germany and at what prices.

At the very height of the 1947 food crisis, twenty thousand tons of Dutch vegetables were turned back at the German border on General Clay's orders, because "vegetables are too expensive a food in relation to their calories." Golden grain paid for in golden dollars and brought from America must be the only food. Holland's age-old trade of vegetables and other foodstuffs to the Ruhr in exchange for semi-finished Ruhr goods for her own industries was brought to a halt. It only started up again when the Dutch developed a vigorous trade with the Soviet Zone, which General Clay did his best to bring to a halt by the counter-blockade, but which developed so flourishingly, that Western Germany was allowed later to take a share in the Dutch trade again.

What the American control of export and imports meant for the British, I stumbled across by accident. I wanted to buy a Rolleiflex camera, made by Francke and Heidecke at Brunswick in the .British Zone. I went through the correct official channels, to Fine Instruments Branch, Commerce Division, of the British Control Commission, with a sponsoring letter from Press Relations. There would be no difficulties, I was told, as long as I was prepared to pay in sterling and not in marks. I was ready to pay in sterling.

Various letters passed to and fro. I must have a permit, it seemed, from the British Board of Trade. After some more correspondence the Board of Trade gave its assent, as I was a journalist working abroad. In the meantime Joint Export-Import had been set up and I had to deal with a British official there.

He was very harassed with my problem. "But look here, old boy," he said, to my great astonishment, "it's all very well for the Board of Trade to give you a permit, but what about the Treasury?" I explained patiently that it had already been settled that I would pay in sterling and not in marks – that this had been decided three months ago. "But look here," he said, "as far as I can understand this new agreement, this camera is now a German export and by what I can make out, the British Government must pay out in dollars to the American Government the equivalent of the thirty-five pounds you pay me." And he quoted some very involved paragraphs from the new agreement.

It boiled down to the fact that Britain could only buy goods in Germany in sterling to the extent she pumped in goods paid for in sterling and it was America who decided how much Britain could export to Germany. Everything bought in excess of what America allowed her to put into Germany had to be paid for in dollars-to America.

I published a story next day that the British Zone of Germany had become a dollar area; that for trading purposes Britain would have to restrict purchases there in the same way as she had done with the United States; that even normal pre-war trade was barred by American restrictions. The story was denied and an expert from the Export-Import Board was sent specially to Berlin to correct my errors. General Robertson and his economic adviser, Sir Cecil Weir, both ridiculed the idea, when it was put to them at a press conference a day or two later.

Then it seemed that somebody was told to study the agreement carefully, paragraph by paragraph.

Overnight the sale of Volkswagens – made at Fallesleben in the British Zone – was stopped to British nationals. Previously Control Commission officials could buy them for pounds. Three days after my story was published, one had to take along dollar traveller cheques to buy Volkswagens, Rolleiflex cameras, or any other items in the British Zone. The British Zone had indeed become a dollar area. For once, it seemed, American financial experts caught the British napping. And it was all done by food crisis.

Yes, the food crisis was a very opportune intervention for American policy in Germany. It could not have served American interests better if it had been planned at a Washington conference table. Of course, the taxpayers were told they were paying for the dumping of American food and fuel into Germany, but it was American capitalism that would reap the profits and German taxpayers who would eventually foot the bill. American taxpayers were making a temporary loan to American economic imperialism.

The myth of the food crisis was finally exploded three months after the setting up of the Bonn regime when the end of food and petrol rationing in the Western Zones was announced. Food production declined steadily while unemployment rose. The food crisis had served its purpose only too well, and when it was no longer needed as a weapon to further U.S. aims in Germany, it was cast aside. There is, however, a standing food crisis for two million unemployed and eight million displaced persons in Western Germany, with the end of rationing and sky-rocketing food prices.

Bonn ministers jeered at British criticism, when they ended food and petrol rationing, and said, "Come over to Germany and see for yourselves how much food we've got."

American big businessmen and investment bankers are cashing in on the food crisis as controls are lifted, and they can go in again to buy up their share of trusts and industries. After the American Government has "so generously" thrown hundreds of millions of dollars into feeding Germany, what West German politician would have the ingratitude to slam the door in the face of American investors in the Ruhr – a nice non-socialised Ruhr? And if ingratitude rears its ugly head, there's a good solid dollar debt of several billions, to club it down again.

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